Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mental illness can’t win. It just CAN’T!

Mental illness can really do a number on a person when it’s left alone.  No medication, wrong medication, self-medication, plus years without therapy all played a role in my son’s demise.

Before he was afflicted, people would describe David as resourceful, charming, adventurous, caring, conscientious, and loving.  Everyone loved to be around him!  He also loved the outdoors, was active at school and church, and dreamt really big dreams.

But his best qualities became his worst attributes once mental illness hit…
His resourcefulness helped him sometimes, but it mostly got him into trouble.
His charm turned into manipulation, even with people he just met in jail.
His adventurous spirit became recklessness, often at the expense of others.

And he eventually began to care about the wrong things, because he believed the lies his mind was telling him.  Since he did have a conscience, the war in and for his mind grew more vigorous, with severe anxiety tipping the scales.  He won some of those battles, but he lost the war alone on a cold January night.

Though mental illness stole his life, it won’t get the last word.  I won’t let it!

I’ll fight it and expose it wherever and whenever I can.  For David’s sake.  For the sake of everyone at war with it.  For everyone who’ll bury their child if I don’t speak up.

Unfortunately, my story is all too common.  Millions of others have the same challenge.  The question is, How many voices, how many hearts will join me?

Will you advocate for the mentally ill even when others don’t?

Will you help others learn lessons from your pain, so they don’t have to feel it themselves?

Will you carry mercy, grace, and empathy to the unlikeable, to the angry, to the hopeless?

I know you can!  And if you do, mental illness doesn’t stand a chance.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Listening—unnatural, but necessary

Piloting the “USS Marriage”toward a common point requires something very unnatural: listening!

The darkest times in our marriage were when my ears were farthest from my heart.  Though Ann and I slept only a foot from each other and ate together at a table just five feet long, it seemed like the worlds we were perceiving, living in, and trying to manage were on opposite ends of the galaxy.

The reason?  I (and, to a lesser degree, Ann) didn’t apply this truth: You hear with your ears, but you listen with your heart.

Now, ‘hearing’ is a natural action requiring no effort.  It just happens.  Sound waves hit your ear drum, impulses travel to your brain, and, voila, you hear!  We learned that in middle school.

‘Listening’ on the other hand…..  Big difference!  Listening is a conscious choice, demands your attention and concentration, with the goal of understanding.  All that doesn’t just happen; it’s not natural.  And, boy, it takes a lot of work!  We learned that in middle school, too.

Listening in a marriage, especially one that involves additional challenges like navigating the ‘special needs’ world, demands all that and more!  And you don’t learn that in middle school!

You learn it through trials and arguments and anger and frustration.  You learn it despite differences and missteps, loud voices and cold shoulders.  You learn it over time and through the fire, nose to nose and will to will.  And if you’re lucky, you learn at least some of it through the stories and the tears and the encouragement of others.

Any which way, when you learn it, you learn it for life.  And you apply it not just in your marriage, but with every person you ever meet, forever.  Why?  Because you never want to go through that learning process again, with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Now, I won’t detail here the pain we experienced to close our ‘listening’ gap, because the pain’s not the point.  It’s like the pain of preparing for a marathon—it’s not pretty, you don’t want to talk about it, you just do it.  Instead, you talk about your finish time, the satisfaction you felt, the lessons you learned on the months-long journey.

So, what did we learn?  A few things…
·        You build trust when you’re faithful.
·        You become a friend when you’re present.
·        You earn forgiveness when you show grace.
·        Comparison says, “I’m hurting more.”  Judgment shouts, “I’m hurting you!”  Avoid both.
·        Listening’s a 24/7 activity.  If you take a break, they will, too.  And it just spirals from there.
·        The loudest message is often the unspoken, unwritten one.  Dig deep between the lines for the treasure.
·        Sometimes you just need to listen.  That’s all.  Just listen.  Don’t fix, don’t suggest, don’t comment.  Just listen.
·        James said: “Faith without deeds is dead.”  We say, “Listening without empathy is dead.”

Listening enables empathy.
Empathy enables caring.
Caring sustains love.
Love is the goal.